24 February 2009

Keeping the kipahs: Yarmulgraphs?

My family had a bag of them. Kipahs, kippahs, yarmulkes. I have the bag now and it has been added to over the years.

Kipah [kee-pah] is the Hebrew name for the Yiddish yarmulke, the Jewish head covering worn, according to personal observance, only for prayer, at meals or all the time.

A valuable genealogical resource, each has the name or names of the celebrants, the date, sometimes the place. Each commemmorates a bar or bat mitzvah, a wedding, an engagement, an anniversary, a brit millah - even a funeral.

Every major family event is represented by a head covering. They are every color of the rainbow and made of every type of material (satin, silk, suede, leather). Whenever we need a kipah, a hand goes in and withdraws something suitable. The rainbow included white, hot pink, electric blue, green, pale blue, pale pink, gold, silver, even black. You can always find one to match your outfit or that of your guest at a Shabbat or holiday meal!

When writing stories about genealogy and lifecycle events, I often discuss kipah collections as very useful family history artifacts.

In Seattle, meet emergency room pediatrician Jonathan Chalett, 52, who takes his "Kipah Kollection" a step farther, and brings it into the realm of autograph book. The article called them "yarmulgraphs."

A modest-looking man with gray hair, wire-rimmed glasses and a thin build steels himself for the mission. He scans the room, plotting his path across the grand ballroom at the Westin Hotel.
He has 32 celebrity-autographed kipahs in his collection, and doesn't appear to be stopping anytime soon. If you live in the Seattle area, you can see them at the University of Washington's Odegaard Undergraduate Library through April 30.

Already, he has beaten the odds. He has been searched by the Secret Service and admitted to an exclusive $1,000-a-plate fundraising dinner, even though he has no ticket.

It's May 26, 2004.

Clad in a jacket and tie, he approaches presidential candidate John Kerry with an unusual request -- to please sign a yarmulke. He offers the senator a pen, but security waves it away. Kerry takes out his own pen. He makes brief eye contact with the stranger and signs the little white cap without comment.

Then the man approaches Teresa Heinz Kerry with the same request. She says: "Oh, a yarmulke. I'd be glad to sign that," and adds a "shalom."
Although he doesn't wear one himself, he carries them in his car and also permanent markers. He says, as a cultural - not religious - Jew - he's not sure if it's OK to autograph them,

But Rabbi Simon Benzaquen of the Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation assures us it's not.

"It's not that it has any holiness in it. A person wears it for prayers; a person wears it when he eats at the table," Benzaquen said. Then he added, wryly, "I suppose it depends what you write, of course."
He's got them signed by Barack Obama, Elvis Costello, Uma Thurman, Ray Allen and Annie Leibowitz.

Oct. 26, 2006: Best-selling author and new senator Barack Obama is speaking at Benaroya Hall and signing copies of "The Audacity of Hope." Chalett has no ticket to the sold-out event and he has no book to sign. Not that it would matter. He learns Obama will sign only the first 100 books of those in line. Chalett would be somewhere in the 700s.

He approaches the first person in line and asks her to slip the yarmulke under the book and request that Obama sign it. She comes back with the brown suede cap Hancocked, and relays that Obama said it was the only yarmulke he'd autographed.

"There's no way a politician is not going to sign a yarmulke," Chalett said.
How did Chalett get into this esoteric hobby that requires chutzpah? About a decade ago, his son attended a Magic Johnson basketball clinic, Chalett looked for something the star could sign. The only thing in his pocket was a leftover wedding kipah.

"It was hysterical -- a yarmulke in the Catholic Church (gym) signed by Magic Johnson," Chalett recalled fondly. "I said, 'Is this the first yarmulke you've signed?' He said, 'It sure is, and I've signed a lot of things.'"
Two years later, he tries for Van Halen's David Lee Roth (who is Jewish). Chalett wears his medical badge which gets him backstage and, eventually, the signature.

Each time he "goes on the hunt," he wonders if he'll be thrown out or arrested. He says he's never been turned down in person, but mailing the headcoverings fails.

The library display includes context and the doctor was the curator, creating captions and ephemera (photos, ticket stubs and more) to provide a background for the unique collection.

His collection includes Ray Allen, Ryan Braun, Willie Brown, Peter Buck, Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam drummer), Exene Cervenka, Elvis Costello, the Dalai Lama (unsigned but blessed), Amy Goodman, Harold Gould, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Ariana Huffington, Phil Jackson, Magic Johnson, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, Annie Leibowitz, Taj Mahal, Matisyahu, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, President Barack Obama, Graham Parker, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Madeleine Peyroux, Suzzy and Maggie Roche, David Lee Roth, Dan Savage, Patti Smith, Uma Thurman, John Updike, John Waters, Martell Webster, and Lenny Wilkens.
Everyone needs a hobby! And if you'd like to crochet kipahs yourself, here's a great site with downloadable patterns for various designs.

Read the complete article at the link above.

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